India’s military buildup at this time is ominous for Pakistan

India’s military buildup at this time is ominous for Pakistan

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It is inevitable that Pakistan’s worsening economic situation will have a consequential impact on its military security. Without maintaining reasonable defense spending, Islamabad could be exposed to Indian aggression and a replay of the 2019 military standoff between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out during India’s general election scheduled for April 2024. There is little doubt Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cohorts will use anti-Pakistan rhetoric to congregate the support of Hindutva forces in India.  

Last month, India proposed 5.94 trillion rupees ($72.6 billion) in defense spending for the 2023-24 financial year- a 13 percent increase. It was reported that 1.63tr rupees will be spent to purchase new weapons, aircraft, warships, and other military hardware. Currently, India is the third-highest military spender after the US and China. Consequently, New Delhi has such a lead over Islamabad in defense spending and armed forces modernization that Pakistan is left with few, and stark options. 

Another destabilizing dynamic in the global strategic environment is the increasingly conventional and non-conventional arms race among the great powers. The Russian invasion of Ukraine marked the revival of Cold War-like rivalry in Europe, which validated the legitimacy of NATO as an institution and also rejuvenated the military alliance politics in Europe and Asia. Besides, the mega investments in military modernization have unleashed the exorbitant arms race at regional and global levels.  

India is an important member of QUAD. Chinese strategic analysts declared QUAD as an Asian version of NATO. The United States security documents released in October 2022 reconfirmed the advancement of the Indo-US strategic partnership and increased American investment in modernizing India's warfighting ability and capability. The Americans' generous support to Indian armed forces may enable India to contribute substantially to the US containment strategy of China, but immensely undermines the South Asian strategic environment.   

On March 2, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar said India “remains a net recipient of generous supplies of advanced conventional and non-conventional weapons, technologies and platforms.” Indeed, the increase in India’s defense budget and “generous” supply of conventional and non-conventional by its allies is alarming for Pakistan. 

The increasing military strength of India compels Pakistan to increase its defense spending, which is a Herculean task due to the sliding trend in the national economy. 

Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

India and Israel finalized the “India–Israel Vision on Defense Cooperation” for a comprehensive 10-year roadmap to enhance cooperation on futuristic defense technologies in June 2022. India has been purchasing unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles, air defense systems, and radar systems from Israel to strengthen its surveillance and operational capabilities. The cooperation in emerging technologies will revolutionize India’s offensive and defensive arrangements against Pakistan.

Russia supplied India with the third squadron of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile defense system, despite its ongoing conflict with Ukraine. The remaining two squadrons of S-400 will be delivered before the end of 2023.  The new squadron is likely to be deployed in either Punjab-Rajasthan or in Indian- administered Kashmir. The S-400 can engage enemy fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, and ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of up to 400 km. 

US-led western nations did not object to the Russian S-400 missiles' recent trade to India. Washington refrained from imposing sanctions on India under the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Conversely, last week, some Pakistani firms have been put on the US Commerce Department's 'entity list', allegedly "for contributing to ballistic missile programs of concern, including Pakistan's missile program, and for involvement in un-safeguarded nuclear activities."

Importantly, Pakistan’s nuclear program has civilian and military components. Its civilian program is under the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards. Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director-general of the IAEA, during his two-day visit to Pakistan last month appreciated Pakistan’s safeguards record.  

Like other nuclear weapon states, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is not under the IAEA safeguards. Therefore, reprimanding and alleging Pakistani firms for being involved in unsafeguarded activities seems a deliberate attempt to weaken Pakistan’s merchandise and local defense industry. 

The increasing military strength of India compels Pakistan to increase its defense spending, which is a Herculean task due to the sliding trend in the national economy. Having limited options in purchasing military hardware from the international military market due to financial constraints, Pakistan is more inclined towards a domestic military-industrial complex for both conventional and non-conventional weaponry. 

Indeed, for the credibility of full spectrum deterrence, Pakistan is obliged to improve its nuclear capability within the precincts of credible minimum nuclear deterrence and advance its indigenous ballistic and cruise missile production. Therefore, the Pakistani ruling elite has to devise a practical economic and diplomatic policy to ensure its full spectrum deterrence capability without succumbing to internal and external pressures. 

In summary, Washington is not opposing India’s supersonic cruise missile developments, S-400 purchases from Russia, and revolutionizing its conventional and non-conventional capability with the assistance of Israel. However, it is targeting Pakistan’s ballistic missile program, which is imperative for Pakistan’s full spectrum deterrence and also for enduring strategic stability in South Asia.  

- Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal

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